Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Suicide;The Silent Epidemic Strikes Again!

     A young man recently lost a battle and with it, his life. Scott Bickel age 21, who was recently named one of the area’s most interesting men by Cleveland Magazine, ended his life by leaping off a bridge near Sagamore Hills. Scott, who suffered for several years with bipolar disorder, had said goodbye to his family and friends in a cryptic message he posted on his facebook page. He became one of the over thirty thousand verifiable suicides per year in the United States. Sadly, that number has been increasing for a variety of reasons.
     As an advocate, I first looked at his passing with grief and wondered what caused him to give up and commit the ultimate mortal act?  Another question that begs asking is, how does someone who was recognized for his positive contributions in life, commit suicide just a couple of months later?
     The only answer I can give to those questions is the unforgiving nature of bipolar disorder, and not being compliant with medication. Suicide, which is the number two cause of death for people in Scott’s age bracket, is not what that person wants; they just want their pain to stop! I can speak on that from firsthand experience, because I never wanted to die, but the pain from the disease just overwhelms its victim. Based on what he wrote; it is clear that this illness also broke him down emotionally. 
     On facebook, Scott wrote, “I MAXED out my energy intelligence, and love EVERYDAY of my life till it eventually burned out my existence from the horrific pain of my life.” This young man wanted to make a difference in the lives of others, and he succeeded. So many people that I contacted all said the same things, he was a bright kid, and sweet person to be around, and the number of superlatives of him goes on. He wanted to prove that no hurdle was ever going to stand in his way, and wanted to inspire others who were similarly afflicted. Sadly, it was the dreadful pain that this illness brings while untreated, and few can imagine its intensity that won out. It wears its pry down until it destroys your will, and your only desire is to end that pain. 
     He also added, “Study about BIPOLAR and help people everywhere. Use my life story and passions to INSPIRE AND BETTER THE WORLD!!!”  He spent a considerable deal of time doing just that. He woke up every day, and started it with the knowledge that he had this extremely misunderstood condition, and he attempted to live life to the fullest. Untreated mania, along with it, debilitating bouts of depression, are overwhelmingly destructive, which drives a person to desperation to be free of them. The disease did not beat him; it just consumed him like it does tens of thousands of people every year. When he said to study bipolar, maybe he was asking for more awareness of this disorder, for more understanding, also for more acceptance of people afflicted.
     Scott, who was an adoptive child, was born to a drug addicted couple, and never knew them. He grew up in North Royalton Ohio, and it was during his high school years that he first exhibited signs of his illness. These are the typical ages that it begins its relentless assault on the individual, and can immediately define who that person appears to be. 
     This young man lost the struggle, but he did attempt to live a productive life.
     Hauntingly, there were several common threads between Scott and me. He was an altar boy for St Josephs Byzantine Church in Brecksville. This is the same one that I grew up in, and served as an altar boy when it was located on Orleans Ave, on Cleveland’s Southeast side, several decades before him.  After his diagnosis, he strove to become an advocate, and help others similarly afflicted, just like I have done. He wrote a book about his life and his battle with this illness; and so did I. In the past, because of our mutual affliction, we both attempted to end our lives. We both had to wake up every day and experience the inner demons of this merciless disease, and we both did.
     The one area we differed on is facing the life sentence of treatment, which is the main reason people fail at recovery. Because of this, only one out of four people receive, and continue to accept the treatment that is necessary for a successful life.
     I have seen and heard so many cases with similar scenarios, and one noticeably strikes me as being like Scotts.
     In 2003, Garrett Smith, the adopted son of then United States Senator Gordon Smith, also took his own life, at the age of 21, the same as Scott. Like Scott and myself, he suffered from bipolar disorder, and the pain from it also consumed him.  His father, who became a strong mental health advocate after that, chronicled his son’s life in the book, “Remembering Garrett”. With his position, he called for a national dialogue on mental illness to raise awareness of these disorders. Additionally, Senator Smiths continues to work on this subject to this very day.
     People tend to judge suicidal people as being selfish. My replay to that is unless you have lived with a disorder like this; when you existed on the edge between sanity and insanity, and felt the enormous emotional suffering from it; no one has a clue how desperate one can become. Instead of judging individuals like Scott, follow his advice, and learn about mental illness; become aware of its complexities, and the stigma that goes with it. Reach out to those in need, avoid ostracizing them. With greater awareness, we can lift the veil of shame from the silent epidemic of suicide. If more people do, they can enrich themselves, and even help prevent this from happening again. That would be a fitting tribute to this young man.

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